Monday, January 23, 2012
Our Man In The Dark: A Novel by Rashad Harrison
A stunning debut historical noir novel about a worker in the civil rights movement who became an informant for the FBI during the months leading up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Feeling underappreciated and overlooked, John Estem, a bookkeeper for Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), steals ten thousand dollars from the organization. Originally planning to use the money to seed a new civil rights initiative in Chicago, he squanders the stolen funds.
To the bookkeeper's dismay, the FBI has been keeping close tabs on Dr. King and his fellow activists - including Estem - for years. FBI agents tell Estem that it is his duty, as an American and as a civil rights supporter, to protect the SCLC from communist infiltration. The FBI offers Estem a stipend, but in case he has any thoughts about refusing the assignment, they also warn him that they know about the stolen money.
Playing informant empowers Estem, but he soon learns that his job is not simply to relay information on the organization. Once the FBI discovers evidence of King's sexual infidelities, they set out to confirm the facts to undermine King's credibility as a moral leader and bring down the movement.
This timely novel comes in light of recent revelations that government informants had infiltrated numerous black movement organizations. With historical facts at the core of Our Man in the Dark, Harrison uses real life as a great inspiration for his drama-filled art.
My thoughts: (I haven't finished the book, but here are my thoughts so far)
I am loving this noir style of historical fiction. It is truly making for an enjoyable read. I am so caught up in Estem's story that I simply can't put the book down. From his flawed character to the imperfections of Dr. King, I am riveted by how this story is unfolding.
Harrison has written the story of a man named John Estem. Working as the bookkeeper for the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Estem often finds himself being ignored by his colleagues and his ideas overlooked by his boss, Gant. He simply wants for Dr. King to be aware of him and his ideas and know that he is someone who should be a part of their closed door meetings and that he can help with promoting their civil rights movement agenda. Instead, Estem is left with picking up Gant's dry cleaning and going over the accounts. With regards to his personal life, it mirrors his work life - ignored and overlooked. In love with Candy, this woman he has known for ages, Estem is frequently showing up at her place of work only to be told by Candy and her boss/boyfriend to leave her alone. At the end of the day, Estem is left with his leg brace and the occasional hangover. Did I mention he wears a leg brace - its due to his bout with polio as a child.
However, one day, Estem decides to take action. He steals some money from the SCLC and uses it to buy some fancy clothes and a car - all in the hopes of finally getting Candy's attention. Once again rebuffed, he finds himself outside in the alley getting beat on by some of Candy's boyfriend's hired thugs. Except, the beating stops when headlights shine down on them and two men with guns tell the thugs to back off and leave Estem alone. Suddenly, things are about to get seriously turned around in Estem's world. Turns out the two men are from the FBI and they have been watching Estem, the SCLC and Dr. King and have decided that it was time to call on Estem for some help. Aware of the money he has stolen, they use that information as leverage to make Estem an informant for the FBI in the investigation of the SCLC and Dr. King. They want to make sure that neither party has been infiltrated by the communist party as they have proof that Gant has communist ties from his past. Shocked by the facts that are laid out before him, but also wanting to prove himself, Estem agrees to become an informant for the FBI. Plus, he realizes that in order to pay back the money he stole, he will need the weekly earnings that the FBI is promising him. And so, the story really begins as we read on to see how Estem will handle being an informant and the ways in which this new line of work will affect him personally and professionally. Estem will soon learn that the FBI expects more than he is willing to give and that people are not all what they seem. He will need to learn to stand up for himself and for what he believes in - the only question is, will he be able to do so.
Written with such vivid detail and compelling characters, Harrison has created a must-read book. The story is engaging and keeps you on your toes as you keep on reading to find out what will happen next to Estem. Plus, the fact that Dr. King is one of the characters, well, that alone makes for some fascinating reading. You will not be disappointed! I would definitely recommend this fantastic debut novel, Our Man In The Dark, by Rashad Harrison to everyone interested in history, noir and fiction - you will get the best combination of all three in this one book. Enjoy! ( I know I'm enjoying the book! And now I'm off to finish it!)